Archive for October, 2013|Monthly archive page

2014 Nissan Versa Note – Making a big bang for not a lot of bucks

The original Austin Mini was not designed as a fun-to-drive, sporty small car. Its go-kart-like handling and general chuckability were an unintended byproduct of essential aspects of its design. Its four wheels were pushed to the absolute corners of the car to maximize interior space, and its front-wheel-drive layout and transversely mounted engine were in contrast to the rear-wheel-drive, longitudinal layouts of the day.

The result was a highly economical car with space for four and some luggage that just happened to be an absolute hoot to drive. Nissan has followed a similar path in the design of its Versa Note, which strives to provide the maximum amount of space and efficiency in a minimal footprint. On this front, it’s successful.

First, we must salute Nissan for departing from the styling of the malformed kidney bean it calls the Versa Sedan. The Versa Note is a fashionably conservative design that neither offends nor excites. The front fascia is arguably its most conservative point, with high-mounted headlights and a sharper, cleaner version of Nissan’s familial grille. The tail, with its funky I-don’t-know-what-shape-I-am taillights contributes most of the car’s flair. The large, spacious greenhouse, particularly up front, keeps passengers from feeling hemmed-in while letting in plenty of light.

Where the Versa Note distinguishes itself from the sedan with its exterior styling, the two are far too closely related in the cabin. Nissan tries to maintain the conservative-but-different styling of the exterior with its cabin design, but the results are less successful. It feels generic, and the materials simply aren’t up to scratch in 2013. Hard plastics dominate, with a half-hearted attempt at soft-touch plastic on the dash. The doors feature a modicum of padding on the armrest, but the entire door card assembly flexed when we pushed them. In fact, the poor interior is easily one of the biggest knocks against the Versa Note. The reality of the subcompact market is that cabins are getting better (look no further than the Ford Fiesta Titanium), and Nissan is not competing. We’d rather have a shortage of room and a clean, modern cabin than 100 cubic feet of black plastic. There are others, though, who likely would disagree, as the Versa has traditionally sold well based on the value of its class-leading interior volume rather than its choice of materials.

We aren’t exaggerating, the backseat of the Versa Note is enormous, with just over two inches more legroom than the midsize, rear-wheel-drive Infiniti M luxury sedan. It’s comfortable back there, too, with a nicely cushioned bench that avoids the penalty-box feel of some competitors. In fact, the Versa Note is actually classified by the EPA as a compact, despite its footprint and price being more in line with subcompacts. The EPA’s notoriously wonky classification system categorizes a car based on interior volume, which is why the Versa Note is in the same EPA class as a Bentley Continental GT. Trunk space is ample too, with a very generous 18.8 cubic feet available when the rear seats are up and 38.8 cubic feet with when the split-fold seats are down.

From behind the wheel, visibility in the Note is quite good. The tall, open greenhouse combined with the upright seating position offer great sightlines from behind the wheel. Being behind said wheel, though, isn’t all that great of an experience. The Versa Note’s seats are overly narrow, which gives it a rather sporting feel at first, only to have it grow tiresome as time with the car wears on. The padding on the seats is overly soft as well, meaning that while it’s tight, there isn’t a lot of support. It should be noted, though, that unlike the 2012 Versa Sedan we reviewed, our tester did include a center armrest for the driver. The urethane steering wheel is swiped from the Sentra, and much like that car, is merely okay to operate. It does feel rather cheap – Nissan might do well to swallow the extra expense and wrap the wheel in leather, as it’d really class up the car’s cabin.

The Versa Note’s big selling point, besides its interior volume, is the tech and infotainment feature-set that it offers customers. A backup camera isn’t an unusual feature nowadays, but Nissan’s Around View monitor, which takes the feeds from four different cameras and projects a “360-degree” overhead image onto the infotainment screen, is positively aristocratic in the world of subcompacts. On top of that, NissanConnect, the Japanese giant’s infotainment service, packs in Google and Google Send-to-Car map service along with weather and traffic information, hands-free text messaging and, of course, Pandora and Bluetooth integration. Add to that other class-above features like heated seats, push-button start, navigation and a right-sized (for the class) 5.8-inch touchscreen, and the Versa Note presents itself as an absolute steal for our car’s $19,280 as-tested price.

Nissan has really gone all out with infotainment and what would normally be thought of as high-dollar features in the Versa Note’s cabin. They aren’t supported, however, by an overly sophisticated powertrain or mechanicals. A 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine squeaks out 109 horsepower at a lofty 6,000 rpms (just 500 revs south of redline) and 107 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. Fortunately, it’s tasked with hauling around just 2,482 pounds in our top-spec Versa Note SV trim, which makes the low power less of a drawback than you might think.

If a non-sporting car is wearing a Nissan badge, it’s only logical to assume there’s a continuously variable transmission in the mix. Like other Nissans, the Versa Note’s Xtronic CVT is actually quite tolerable – Nissan has made tremendous progress with its CVTs over the years, and it’s really showing here. It lacks the rubber-band feel and tendency to pin the revs up high that typify less evolved CVTs. The pairing of the small engine and belt-driven transmission contributes to an impressive 31 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

Immediately apparent on the first turn of the wheel is that the Versa Note is not a sporting small hatch like a Mazda2 or Honda Fit Sport, the two best driver’s cars in this class. The steering is electric, and not particularly communicative, either on center or mid-turn. It’s rather low effort, and while we prefer a bit of heft in our steering, Nissan has done a good job making the tiller feel light without feeling overboosted – striking this balance really contributes to a small car’s sense of mild tossability and agility.

Paired with a relaxed throttle response, the Versa Note is an easy car to drive smoothly. The accelerator is predictable and linear in its action, making dialing in just the right amount of thrust rather easy.

Remember what we were saying about Nissan splurging on the cabin tech and skimping on the mechanicals? The brakes are the biggest offender, with ten-inch front rotors and eight-inch rear drums. Don’t let the antique rear hardware scare you, though, as our experience with the Versa Note’s brakes proved to be largely positive. Thanks to electronic brake force distribution, working the stop pedal is a confidence-inspiring experience. The brakes are predictable and easy to modulate, which in today’s world will always be preferable to some cutting edge tech that hasn’t been perfected. They may not look like much, but these brakes are just fine.

With 109 horsepower, 107 pound-feet of torque and a weight-to-power ratio of 22.7 pounds per horsepower, are you really surprised that the Versa Note could, at best, be described as pokey? There’s not a lot of grunt to work with here, but that’s actually okay, as the 1.6-liter engine feels smooth, and so long as you don’t punish it, it will still return adequate fuel economy. Mid-range torque is actually somewhat potent, and while we had to get aggressive with the gas pedal, we rarely found ourselves in a situation where we couldn’t produce the required amount of power, provided we planned properly. As we mentioned above, Nissan has really figured this CVT thing out, building a transmission that is smooth, predictable and won’t kick the revs up any higher than is necessary. It’s not annoying, which might be the biggest compliment we can give a CVT.

While there’s nothing overly wrong with the power on offer, the aural byproduct of that grunt is buzzy and rather unpleasant. It’s not too pronounced, but when you really get into the accelerator, a thrashy noise rears its head and enters the cabin. Drive reasonably, though, and the noise is rarely disruptive to the driving experience. Road noise from impacts is what we’d call average, and there is some tire roar depending on the kind of road surface you’re traveling down, but wind noise was nicely sorted.

With independent struts up front and a torsion-beam suspension in back paired with 16-inch alloys wrapped in low-rolling resistance, 195/55R16 Bridgestone Ecopia EP422 tires, the Versa Note is a dullard in the corners compared to its hotter competitors. There’s nothing particularly offensive about its handling – body roll is present, but doesn’t make for a disruptive or unstable experience. It’s a similar story with dive under braking. The overall sense of feedback through the seat is there, but requires a bit of concentration to really notice. The fact that this car isn’t a corner carver isn’t shocking, but neither is the fact that the Versa Note’s ride is quite nice for its class. There’s a fair amount of vertical motion, but it’s not jarring or crashy like some competitors (we’re looking at you, Toyota Yaris). Much like the oversized cabin, the ride of the Versa Note feels more suited to a larger vehicle.

As it stands, our fuel economy in the Versa Note, around 32 mpg combined, was near the bottom of its EPA economy ratings. While netting the 40 mpg highway rating is probably doable, we didn’t find getting there a particularly easy task. We’ll happily split the blame for that between your author’s somewhat aggressive throttle use and the car’s own shortcomings. The Versa Note’s powertrain is just fine and feels ideally suited to the car’s size, but we’d love to see Nissan really push and do more with its powertrain technology. While adding features like stop-start and active aerodynamics to the Versa Note will add to its price, being able to brag about best-in-class fuel economy (a title held among gas-powered cars by Ford’s three-cylinder, turbocharged Fiesta and its 45-mpg rating) is worth its weight in gold.

While our Versa Note was loaded, it’s possible to order the basic car for under $14,000, which is an absolute bargain based just on the cabin space it offers. That car is called the Versa Note 1.6 S. The next trim, the 1.6 S Plus, bumps the price to $15,240, while our top-spec 1.6 SV starts at $15,990. To get all the goodies like Around View, navigation and heated seats, though, you’ll need both the SL Package ($1,700) and the SL Tech Package ($800). Those two packs bump the price to $18,490, although there are no other factory-installed options after that. Add on our tester’s $790 destination-and-handling charge, and you’re looking at an as-tested price for our test car of $19,280.

Now, by a fun coincidence, this review was preceded by Seyth Miersma’s piece on the Ford Fiesta Titanium yesterday. Directionally, Note shoppers might want to have a look at the Fiesta, as it avoids a number of complaints we have with the Versa. But before we get to the bad, it’s important to note (yuck yuck) that the Nissan is hardly defenseless in this fight. It’s lighter and more fuel efficient than the Fiesta, which only returns 27-city mpg and 38-highway mpg. They start around the same price, $14,000, but even with the Titanium trim coming in at $18,800 (Miersma’s tester was over $20,000 with navigation), the Versa’s load of tech is the better bargain. It makes up for this with a modicum more power and torque (120 hp and 112 lb-ft), a far more cosseting ride and a cabin that blows the Versa Note’s hard plastic interior out of the water. If it’s the latter two things you value, the Fiesta might be your cup of tea.

Coming back to the original Austin Mini, the Versa Note follows the Mini’s brief, but takes its formula to extremes, and conjures up a decidedly different character that focuses on space, technology and optional goodies. The fact of the matter is that the Versa Note, like the Mini, is a car that will appeal to a lot of people. It’ll just do it with Around View, Pandora integration and Google rather than driving chops.

Indeed, the ultimate question you’ll need to ask yourself about the Versa Note is what you need and want in a subcompact car. If you value the absolute maximum amount of space for the very least amount of money, the Nissan will serve you very well. It’s the same story if a car’s infotainment systems are high on your priorities list – Nissan has done an excellent job of fitting the Versa Note with class-exclusive features that will make a driver’s time behind the wheel easier and less stressful. But if you want to have fun while driving each day or value a high-quality cabin, you’ll be better served by a Mazda2/Honda Fit Sport or a Ford Fiesta, respectively. Still, the value-for-money proposition that is the Versa Note makes for a solid competitor in an increasingly tough class of cars.

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Meet the Diesels | EcoDiesel and Cummins®: A Family of Power and Performance

The new 2014 Ram EcoDiesel and the Cummins® Turbo Diesel are part of a family tradition of powerful and dependable Ram Trucks engines. No matter the task at hand, these diesel engines stand behind small business owners to perform when performance is needed most.
3.0 Liter EcoDiesel V6 Engine

When it comes to the new 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, there is not a competitor in sight. The 3 liter EcoDiesel boasts a best-in-class fuel economy of better than an estimated 25 miles per gallon, and also has a best-in-class tow rating of 9,300 pounds, topping all base V6 engines in the segment—approaching large V8 capability with 53 percent of the displacement.

How does EcoDiesel achieve this tow rating? Ram Trucks powertrain engineers modified the transmission parking lock inside the exclusive eight-speed TorqueFlite 8 for a higher load rating under hill-hold conditions, allowing for a greater tow rating. Our engineers didn’t stop at towing, though. The EcoDiesel delivers a best-in-class 420 lb-ft of torque, and delivers LESS CO2 into the environment. This truck is equipped with diesel oxidation catalyst, diesel particulate filter and selective catalyst reduction, making the EcoDiesel V6 engine emissions compliant in all 50 states.

Not to mention, the EcoDiesel is B-20 BioDiesel capable, and Biofuel produces fewer air pollutants and less greenhouse gas emissions, making the EcoDiesel V6 engine the cleanest light-duty engine available.
6.7 Liter Cummins® V8 Turbo Diesel Engine

The Ram Heavy-Duty 6.7 liter Cummins® Turbo Diesel I6 is also B-20 fuel capable, while boasting 385 horsepower and a best-in-class 850 lb-ft of torque.

For the hardest jobs, Ram Trucks with the Cummins® Turbo Diesel feature a new cooling system for improved performance and durability, and a best-in-class 15,000-mile oil-change interval will allow you to focus on the task at hand while knowing your vehicle is in it for the long haul.

Among other highlights are the next-generation selective catalytic reduction and diesel exhaust fluid system with a range of up to 4,000 miles between refills, as well as the dual fuel filtration system for enhanced reliability and durability in virtually every climate and environment. And if all that’s not enough, this engine offers an unsurpassed powertrain warranty—five years/100,000 miles.

How do you know which of these highly capable engines is the right choice for you? Visit Dick Scott Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram or Dick Scott Motor Mall to discuss the benefits of each powertrain relative to the business that you’re in.

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2014 Indian Chief Vintage Vs Heritage Softail

They’re the most storied motorcycle manufacturers in American biker lore. Both scratched to life in the early 1900s, developed motorcycles that quickly earned reputations and fostered brand allegiances that ran deep. The companies grew by carving their names into motorcycle racing history books, from the Salt Flats in Utah to as far away as the Isle of Man. They bred Wrecking Crews and spawned Jackpine Gypsies, waged battles on board tracks, hill climbs, and the beaches of Daytona. They’ve championed Emde’s and Munro’s, Petrali’s and Parker’s while instigating countless rivalries. Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle Company have been nemesis for a long time.

But disparate fortunes caused the rivalry to wane. Indian Motorcycles has risen and fallen with the tide as its golden years passed and production ceased in 1953. Several attempts to resurrect the brand failed as it toiled through the Gilroy era before a British private equity firm did its best to again relaunch the company with high dollar motorcycles built in Kings Mountain. Now it has landed in the hands of a very able partner for the first time in many years, parent company Polaris with a multi-billion dollar portfolio. That portfolio includes Victory Motorcycles, which helped Polaris trim Harley’s sales, but admittedly it lacked a company with an iconic American image and long-standing heritage. And so it bought Indian, and finally the company that has seen its share of turbulent times is in the possession of an entity with the talent and resources to once again make it competitive. On Saturday, August 3, in front of a packed house on Main Street in Sturgis, Polaris rolled out the first three Indian Motorcycles it had produced, among them the traditional-styled 2014 Indian Chief Vintage.

The other company in this test has weathered on despite its own hardships to establish itself as the iconic American motorcycle manufacturer. Celebrating 110 years in continuous production, Harley-Davidson hosted parties around the world this year and threw a big shin-dig in Milwaukee. And rightfully so. It has survived the great World Wars, the Black powdercoated heads and cylinders with machined cooling fins topped by chrome rocker covers add up to an eye-pleasing V-Twin powering the 14 Heritage Softail.
The 1690cc Twin Cam 103B of the 2014 Harley Heritage Softail Classic put out 82.26 lb-ft of torque @ 3200 rpm and 66.33 hp @ 5200 rpm.
2014 Harley Heritage Softail Classic Dyno Chart – Twin Cam 103BA powerful 1811cc Thunder Stroke 111 V-Twin sits at the heart of the 2014 Indian Chief models and turned our dyno to the tune of 100.87 lb-ft torque @ 2700 rpm and 73.33 hp @ 4500 rpm.
The 1811cc Thunder Stroke 111 V-Twin of the 2014 Indian Chief Vintage turned our dyno to the tune of 100.87 lb-ft torque @ 2700 rpm and 73.33 hp @ 4500 rpm.
2014 Indian Chief Vintage Dyno Chart – Thunder Stroke 111 Depression, the Recessions, and what is known as the AMF years. It has done so by staying true to itself, true to producing what it knows best, and it’s ability to transcend beyond simply sales and into a lifestyle is a recipe everybody’s eager to steal. On Monday, August 19, Harley’s introduction of its Twin-Cooled engine, Project Rushmore and a restyled Batwing fairing stole the headlines at the introduction of the 2014 models. But there was a long list of Sportsters, Dyna and Softails released for 2014 too, including a timeless American cruiser, the 2014 Heritage Softail Classic.

Hoping to stoke the flames of a rivalry that stretches over 100 years, we pit the 2014 Indian Chief Vintage against the 2014 Harley Heritage Softail Classic. Externally, the two are carbon copies of one another, big classic-cued cruisers clad in chrome, swooping fenders and softail-style suspension, chrome auxiliary lights and tall windscreens, cush leather seats and classic leather saddlebags. The tell of the tape shows both are powered by big pushrod-driven V-Twins, the Harley Heritage running a 1690cc Twin Cam 103B while the Indian’s propulsion is provided by the 1811cc Thunder Stroke 111. Both have six-speed transmissions fed by electronic fuel injection, each has ABS and hidden rear suspension. Dunlop is the tire of choice for both cruisers, whitewalls in the case of the bikes we tested, wrapped around shiny spoked wheels. Overall the long list of similarities is undeniable.

So Motorcycle USA test rider Justin Dawes and I set about testing the two under real-world conditions, from the clogged arteries of LA’s 405 freeway to cruising the PCH, doing dashes over Ortega Highway and inland to secret photo stops. We lived in their saddles for a week, from stop-and-go stints to light touring, and the 2014 Harley Heritage Softail Classic won the efficiency award with an average of 35.514 mpg, a bit better than the guzzling 33.99 mpg average of the 2014 Indian Chief Vintage. Given the Indian has a 0.5-gallon larger tank than the Harley, projected range is almost identical with the Harley good for approximately 177 miles before a fill up while the Indian should be able to stretch it out to around 186 miles. Peeking at the spec sheet, the ’14 Chief Vintage has an MSRP of $20,999 while the ’14 Heritage Softail Classic with the Morocco Gold Paint and wheel package as tested is priced at $19,259.

And while we believed the two would perform almost identically based on their similarities, we couldn’t have been more wrong. They offer much different riding experiences, from the output of their engines to the way they handle and steer. One stretches riders out and feels long and low while the other is tight and compact. From turn-in to braking, there are notable differences between the two. Read on as the 100-year-war reignites, Harley versus Indian, Heritage versus Vintage.

Who says a motorcycle can’t project an aura around its rider? You can’t help but feel a sense of class riding Harley’s Heritage Softail Classic. Ours is a regal ride, pearl paint and polished chrome that reflect the world passing by in its sheen, spinning spokes and whirling whitewalls. A drumming exhaust note declares your approach long before you arrive at a destination. It’s a cool customer cruising between the avenues of trendy Huntington Beach stores, skateboarders gliding by in front of surf shops as people fill the umbrella-covered tables of sidewalk cafes. We sit high in its saddle feeling like a king on his throne as we comfortably cruise down California’s palm tree-lined boulevards.

It is in the stop-and-go of city traffic that the Heritage Softail Classic shines. The first thing you’ll notice about it compared to the Chief Vintage is how much smaller H-D’s cruiser feels. A peek at the spec sheet discloses that the Harley has a 3.7-inch smaller wheelbase and is nine inches shorter in total length. The Heritage Softail Classic also tips our scales 90 pounds lighter than the Indian cruiser. The rider’s triangle on the Harley cruiser is much more compact, riders situated relaxed and upright in its saddle. The bike’s floorboards are forward and a rider’s legs are almost parallel to the backbone but it doesn’t stretch you out as much at the Chief Vintage. The bars on the Heritage Softail Classic are higher and in closer than the Vintage and have a wider range of motion. Dawes called the Heritage’s seat “This big cushy Barcalounger looking thing but it works really well,” adding “It’s comfortable, it supports your butt, the passenger seat presses on your lower back a bit and that can get a little uncomfortable, but there’s room to move around. It doesn’t lock you into place like the Indian seat.”

Once situated in the Harley’s compact rider’s triangle, launching the bike is facilitated by a clutch pull that is firm but not overly stiff. Even though its bars are up, they are easy to negotiate as the front end on the Heritage Softail Classic has less weight to it. Despite having a couple more degrees of rake on the fork, a more compact wheelbase and good centralization of mass give the Harley lighter steering. This makes it easier to handle at low speeds and allows for sharper U-turns when cruising around town.

“Right when I got on it, I was surprised by how light that bike actually feels for how big of a bike it actually is. It doesn’t feel long, it doesn’t feel big, it feels low to the ground and the center of gravity is real easy. It’s got this really light handling which was a big surprise for me because I didn’t expect that at all out of that bike,” agreed Dawes.

Out of town and in the twisty stuff, the ’14 Heritage Softail Classic is quicker to turn-in and transitions with less effort than its bulkier counterpart. It’s primary deficiency in turns are floorboards that scrape easy and often so riders get much less lean angle to play with as the Indian sweeps deeper.

“Cornering clearance – there is none. The floorboards, they look pretty high, but you dip that thing into a corner and it starts dragging almost immediately, it’s pretty crazy. I mean it looks cool, sounds cool, you’re throwing sparks everywhere and people are looking at you like you’re a cornering bad-ass, but it limits the speed at which you can ride around a twisty mountain road. Granted, it’s a Heritage Softail and you’re not going to be ripping it up anyways, you want to cruise, but when you want that extra cornering clearance, it’s not there for you,” lamented Dawes.

Despite its lack of lean, the 2014 Heritage Softail Classic is a bit more composed on the road thanks to suspension that is dialed in almost ideally. Spring rates on the thick fork keep the front firmly in contact with the road as it ranges through a generous 5.1-inches of travel. The hidden horizontally-mounted rear shocks on the rear are equally adept at absorbing bumps in the road while riders remain comfortably shielded and in control. As Dawes said, “The suspension, it’s pretty much spot-on for a cruiser. It’s not too harsh, not too sluggish, not too soft. It’s pretty much like the Goldilocks of suspension for this type of bike,” in the sense that it’s dialed in just right.

And while its low-speed handling and slick suspension set-up are better than the arrangement on the Chief Vintage, the Twin Cam 103 comes up a bit short in comparison to the Indian powerplant. Aesthetically, it’s a thing of beauty, stout pushrod tubes against black powder-coated heads offset by machined cooling fins and chrome rocker covers. The undersquare mill features a healthy 3.87-inch bore hammering down at a 4.374-inch stroke so you’d anticipate an arm-wrenching jolt of low-end torque. And indeed, a peek at the spec sheet shows that you do have a 70.68 lb-ft to play with as early as 2000 rpm. But glance at the Indian’s chart which shows it’s pumping out 92.69 lb-ft at the same 2000 rpm. Overall the Harley’s powerband is very even, strong but not intimidating as it builds up to its 82.26 lb-ft peak at 3200 rpm. Both motorcycles are geared to top out in first just below 45 mph while second gear gets riders up to freeway speed as it signs off at approximately 64 mph. But the Indian will definitely get up to that speed with more enthusiasm. Once up to speed, the Harley’s counter-balanced TC103 operates smoothly as riders drop the transmission into its six-speed “cruise drive,” but the bike did demonstrate a little buzz in the tank at higher rpm before hitting the shift point. Shifting down, the Heritage Softail Classic demonstrates a generous amount of engine braking. Overall though, the output of the Harley engine felt subdued compared to the torque-rich punch of the Indian Thunder Stroke 111.

“It’s a really flat, mellow power band. Usually, think Harley motor, you think character, but the Indian motor actually has more character. It accelerates well, it’s got plenty of power, it just doesn’t have a rush or a hit to it, it kind of just builds,” agreed Dawes.

While its engine didn’t match up, the six-speed gearbox on the Harley is slightly more refined than the transmission on the Indian. Gears engage just a tad smoother and quieter as the Indian transmission is a bit rawer. It only takes a quick push on the heel/toe shifter to run up and down the Heritage’s mechanisms and overall gear ratios are very close, but Harley has had more years to fine tune its gearbox and it shows. One thing the Harley lacks is cruise control, a standard feature on the more expensive Indian Chief Vintage, a feature we believe should come stock on a bike equipped with bags, a windscreen and capable of light touring.

The greatest area of disparity between the Harley and the Indian though is in the braking department. Both cruisers come with anti-lock brakes, the Harley’s system unobtrusively integrated into the wheel hub. But grab a handful of front brake on the Heritage and you don’t get much bite or power out of the four-piston calipers. The Harley also sources a single disc while the Indian uses a dual arrangement on the front. Riders really have to squeeze the brake lever to get the calipers to dig in and provide any feel. A big brake pedal for the rear provides better feedback and the rear unit bites more aggressively than the front, but it doesn’t take much for the ABS to kick in. When it does, it pulses much faster than the Indian and pushes hard in the ball of a rider’s foot while its impact on braking distance is minimal. Both Justin and I agreed that we’d like to see more power to the front while cutting back on the rear’s ABS a bit.

“It feels like you’re pulling on a block of wood, the front brake lever. You can squeeze on it really hard and it doesn’t do much. You’ve got to really rely on the rear brake. Rear brake, it’s got more power, it’s got more feel, the ABS though kicks in pretty soon on it. Too soon. You’re relying on that rear brake to slow you down, so you’re pressing on that rear brake and you get into the ABS and it kicks back on your foot pretty quickly,” concurred Dawes.

While there is notable disparity in the braking department, the two compare favorably in curb appeal. The Heritage earns its name with time-honored styling cues, from nostalgic chrome laced wheels wrapped in wide whitewalls to its studded seat and bags. Chrome trim dresses up everything from its front fender to its auxiliary lights. And the depth of Harley’s paint is unparalleled. The Heritage Softail Classic has a detachable windshield whose height is quite a bit shorter than the Indian. The cutoff line of the windshield sat right across Dawes’ line-of-sight causing him to either look up and over or slouch a tad to peer under. I’m a bit taller so it wasn’t an issue for me. Wind protection is excellent and rider buffeting is nominal, but the fact that it’s fork-mounted means air channels created by other vehicles in front of you create a little buffeting in the bars. Instrumentation is relegated to the essentials, highlighted by an analog speedo centrally located on the big tank-mounted console. The dial doesn’t rise up quite as steeply as the cluster on the Indian so it’s not quite as easy to see. The “low fuel” gauge, embedded in the faux gas tank cap to the left of the console, requires riders to take their eyes off the road, especially as it drops in to the far left corner as it gets closer to “E.” The bike’s leather saddlebags add to its “Heritage” bloodline and are just big enough to cram my backpack and computer in, but that’s about all. Plastic clasps cinch them closed, but there’s no way of locking the bags.

Billed as a boulevard cruiser, the 2014 Harley Heritage Softail Classic excels at exactly that. With a compact rider’s triangle, tight overall design, and easy-going characteristics at parking lot speeds make it a great bike to cruise locales like Huntington Beach. It’s got upscale good looks when you pull into Duke’s on the pier for lunch. We expected a bit more punch from its 1690cc engine, but admit the power of Indian’s 1811cc V-Twin left us jaded. We’d definitely like to feel more power from its front brake and less intervention from the ABS on the rear and would dearly love a bit more lean angle. Overall though the big cruiser is a refined, dignified member of the Softail family, traits which are easily projected upon its rider as well.

Speculation ran rampant as to what direction Polaris would take the Indian Motorcycle Company. Would Polaris carry on tradition, or take it in an entirely different direction altogether? Would a Scout be included in the offerings, or maybe they’d surprise us with something new that paid homage to its racing roots like a 750cc flat tracker. The questions were duly answered when Polaris pulled back the covers on the 2014 Indian Chieftain, Chief Vintage and Chief Classic at Sturgis. While a hard-bagged, hard-faired bagger in the form of the Chieftain was the biggest deviation from the norm, the one bike that held truest to Indian form was the 2014 Vintage. It is imbued with styling cues that made the Indian marque famous, from the deeply valanced fenders to distressed leather seats and tassled saddlebags. On the front fender sits a stoic-faced “Chief” in his light-up “War Bonnet,” the signature trait as recognizable as the script on the tank and the red of the paint. Laced, 60-spoke wheels and a thickly striped whitewall add to its “Vintage” designation.

As classic as the Indian looks, fortunately its performance is 21st century. Ignition is keyless, the standard key replaced by an electronic fob that has to be within proximity of the motorcycle for it to start. The bike drums to life courtesy of an electric starter, roll on the throttle and a ride-by-wire system controls the closed loop fuel injection system and it is equipped with anti-lock brakes. Though its engine sports multi-directional cooling fins, a left-side intake and down-firing exhaust similar to Indian Chief engines from the 1940s, its three camshaft and parallel pushrod arrangement delivers power numbers never before achieved by a stock Indian engine. With the 2014 Indian Chief Vintage, Polaris has done an admirable job of combining the classic and contemporary.

“When I first saw the Indian, photos of it, I really actually wasn’t impressed. It didn’t look that great in photos. But once you get up close to it, it’s a beautiful bike. There’s no getting around it. They really paid attention to every little detail on this bike. Every little thing – the logos, all the castings and the millwork, and the body work and the awesome leather seats and bags that’re old and distressed looking, all of it is spot-on for an American cruiser. You can tell that they really cared about this bike when they built it,” said fellow test rider, Motorcycle USA Editor Justin Dawes.

Climb into its 26-inch high saddle and the Indian Chief Vintage feels long and low. With a total stretch of 103.7 inches, it is a big bike. Its riding position is dictated by long floorboards that are out a bit further and up more than those on the Heritage Softail Classic so a rider’s knees are higher. Its bars are more beach-style, set lower and much wider. The vintage leather seat is a work of art but is scooped at steep angle, so it pushes riders back in the seat. Dawes didn’t like that as a result of this scoop, it locks riders into place and for him, put numbing pressure on his tailbone. On the up side, Indian is already aware of this and the production Chief Vintage motorcycles will feature a slightly different seat.

“You get on the Indian, and it’s got these wider beach bars, it’s real long feeling, it’s real low feeling, and it definitely feels heavier maneuvering at slow speeds. When you’re first pulling out of the parking lot, you’re like ‘whoa, this thing’s quite a bit heavier feeling than the Harley.’ Once on the road, that heaviness goes away a little bit but it does take more effort to get it around corners and muscle it around,” said Dawes.

This is due in part to the bars of the Chief Vintage carrying more weight. Its chrome headlight housing looks fantastic, a ribbed spine running down along its top, but its sheer mass adds heft to the bars. So do the great looking running lights, big steel fender and removable windscreen. The wide bars also have a limited range of motion before physically coming to a stop, giving the Harley an edge when executing U-turns and slow-speed maneuvers. The Indian Chief Vintage doesn’t turn-in or transition as easily either, giving up 90 pounds to its competitor, much of it front-biased.

The disparity in low-speed handling decreases attacking corners at speed though. Contrarily, the big bike stays true to its line in turns, its Dunlop American Elite tires tacky and reliable. Because its floorboards are higher, riders can confidently carry more speed into turns than the Harley and achieve greater lean angles. On the winding SoCal stretch known as Ortega Highway, the Indian Chief Vintage hustles fluidly, never letting the Harley out of its sight. Twist the throttle upon corner exit and its power advantage quickly closes any gaps.

Because the Indian definitely has the Harley covered in the engine department. The difference is notable from the first crack of the throttle as the Chief Vintage surges off the line with arm-wrenching power, the 1811cc mill putting out peak numbers of 100.87 lb-ft @ 2700 rpm and 73.33 hp @ 4500 rpm. As low as 2100 rpm, 94.94 lb-ft of torque is already accessible. After hitting its 2700 rpm peak, another wave of 100 lb-ft midrange muscle quickly follows when it hits 3100 rpm. It beats the Harley in roll-on power and by the time you throw the Indian into sixth gear, the powerful mill is maintaining that speed with little effort. We noticed a difference at redline, too. As the Heritage Softail Classic reaches the parameters of its powerband and signs off abruptly, the Thunder Stroke 111 has a little over-rev so it continues to deliver power even at redline.

“The motor on this thing is very impressive to me. It has a much more gruntier feel than the Heritage Softail did. It just seems, when you gas it, it kinda tugs on your arms, pulls on your shoulders and it pulls out. It’s got a rumble and a lope that when you gas it, you feel it in your chest,” Dawes said.

This isn’t to say that the Indian V-Twin isn’t without it nuances. There’s more valve noise coming from the engine on the Indian, a constant ticking we believe may come from the shape of the valve covers. In congested stop-and-go LA traffic on a warm day, the long-stroking mill with the almost four-inch pistons puts out noticeable heat on a rider’s right calf, too.

Hitting the less-than-smooth thoroughfare known as the 405, similar suspension arrangements between the two cruisers provide comparable ride qualities. While both motorcycles feature traditional forks, the one used on the Indian is a little springier with less travel at 4.7 inches. Both cruisers use a Softail-style arrangement on the rear, albeit the Chief Vintage sources a single rear shock instead of the Harley’s double shock set-up. And while there’s not much disparity in performance of the rear, Dawes and I agreed that the fork is slightly off.

“It seems to have too much rebound, and so you’re going around corners and over bumps and stuff and you get this, it’s not really a hop, but it just comes back through the stroke too fast and has this bouncy feel to it. Going down the freeway in a straight line, when you hit seams and things, the front and the back react at a little bit different speed so you get a teeter-totter, back-and-forth effect when both ends spring back too quickly. If it was a little more cush, a little more slow reacting, that would go away and it’d be a pavement-gobbling machine,” Dawes said.

Once again, we have to include the disclaimer that the Indian Chief Vintage we tested is a pre-production unit. Indian says it is already addressing the issue with the seat, is changing out the floorboard rubbers and has other small details to attend to. Whether one of these details is the spring rates on the fork is unknown at this time.

What is known though is that the 2014 Chief Vintage definitely has the stronger brakes of the two. There’s much better power and feel on the front thanks to big, dual floating rotors teamed to four-piston calipers. Action from the Indian’s single floating rear rotor is comparable to the power and feel of the Harley and will seize with a heavy stab of the pedal before the ABS takes over. That said, the ABS on the Indian is less intrusive and the pulse rate is different so it doesn’t kick back in the ball of a rider’s foot as aggressively as the system on the Harley.

“Braking power from the front brake on the Indian is far superior to the Harley. It’s got good feel, a nice lever pull, and doesn’t take too much effort. The rear brake doesn’t have so much feel. The ABS locks and lets off, you can lock it and slide it, half-second pulses. Up front, it’s really difficult to get it into the anti-lock,” added Dawes.

On the form and functionality side, Motorcycle USA’s tester Justin Dawes already commented on how Indian has paid an admirable amount of attention to details. Its chrome, tank-mounted console features a large analog speedo with a digital window that reads out gear position, dual tripmeters, and digital tachometer. The console also includes a small round dial for the fuel gauge. The instruments on the Indian are mounted higher and slanted more toward the rider making them easier to see than the cluster on the Harley. Cruise control is a standard feature the Chief Vintage has that the Heritage Softail Classic doesn’t. The system is push-button activated via switches in the right control housing, the system operable even with gloved fingers. Like the Harley, the Chief Vintage also has a removable windshield, albeit the one on the Indian is a bit taller. It offers first-rate wind protection, but Dawes commented that he was getting a reflection off the “awesome looking dash” in the windshield.

“You have these kind of lines and flares in the windshield all the time, especially noticeable when you go from light to dark on country roads,” he said.

Being a little bit taller than Dawes, my line of sight is higher and the reflections he mentioned weren’t an issue for me. But both he and Jason Abbott, who tested the Chief Vintage for Cycle News and is about the same size as Dawes, mentioned it so we thought it a valid enough point to comment on. Its saddlebags have the same high quality leather workmanship as the seat and are a tad wider than the ones on the Harley. Metal clasps are a sweet accent, but like the ones on the Heritage Softail Classic, the bags don’t lock.

As noted in our introduction, we thought the two American cruiser motorcycles would be carbon copies of one another. But they’re not. The Harley sports a more compact rider’s triangle, feels like a much smaller bike than it is, and enjoys an advantage in low-speed handling. The Indian on the other hand is long, low, and feels large and in charge. Riders are sprawled out more, from the stretch to the floorboards to the reach to the bars. After spending time on both bikes, it is a hard one to judge. The Heritage Softail Classic is easier to ride, its suspension is dialed in better, and its gearbox is just a tad more refined. Bottom line though, the Indian Chief Vintage stops and goes better. The pop of its Thunder Stroke engine makes you drunk with power. Its binders on the front are much more powerful while its ABS is less intrusive. While the Harley has lighter steering at low speeds, it also grinds boards much easier than the Indian and sacrifices lean angle at speed as a result. The Heritage Softail has the better fork, but ride quality on the backside is almost identical. The differences between the gearboxes are minute, and Indian has said it is already addressing Dawes’ issue with the seat. Overall, we believe the Harley’s soft front brakes and monotone power delivery are a bigger trade-off than the fast rebounding fork and heavier steering of the Indian. Having 18.36 lb-ft more torque to play with and faster-reacting roll-on also tilts the scales in favor of the 2014 Chief Vintage. Indian’s marketing strategy declared that “Choice is Here” for people who want an American cruiser motorcycle. We say buyers do indeed have a choice now in high quality American cruisers as the flames of a 100-year-old rivalry are once again ignited.

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Top 12 Car Seat Mistakes

1) Moving your child out of a booster seat too soon.

Consequence: Seat belts are designed to fit adults, not children. Improper seat belt fit can result in abdominal or neck injury in a crash or sudden stop.

Recommendation: Keep your children in booster seats until the seat belt fits them properly. Children should be able to sit with their back against the seat, knees bending at the edge of the seat and feet touching the floor. The lap belt should be positioned low across their hips and upper thighs with the shoulder belt across their chest and collarbone. Depending on your child’s growth and development, a seat belt typically fits correctly between ages 8 – 12.

2) Not installing the car seat tightly enough.

Consequence: If the seat belt or lower anchor connection is too loose, the car seat will not stay put, subjecting your child to greater crash forces.

Recommendation: The car seat should not move side-to-side or front-to-back more than 1 inch when tested at the belt path.

3) Harness straps too loose.

Consequence: If harnesses are too loose, your child will not be properly restrained in the event of a crash. This may subject your child to higher crash forces, or even ejection from the seat altogether.

Recommendation: Harness straps should lay flat and not have any twists. Be sure the harness is snug enough that you cannot pinch any extra material at the child’s shoulder.

4) Retainer clip (or chest clip) is too low.

Consequence: The retainer clip helps keep the child secure in the car seat in the event of a sudden stop of crash. When a retainer clip is too low, a child can come out of the harnesses or the hard, plastic retainer clip can cause internal damage to their abdomen.

Recommendation: Place the retainer clip at armpit level.

5) Turning your child forward facing too soon.

Consequence: Children in the second year of life are 5 times less likely to die or be seriously injured in a crash if they ride in a rear-facing car seat. Turning a child forward facing before age two can result in head , neck or spinal cord injury due to the their underdeveloped bodies.

Recommendation: A child should remain in a rear-facing seat as long as possible until they reach the upper weight or height limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer. Once your child outgrows a rear-facing infant seat, switch to a rear-facing convertible car seat with higher height and weight limits.

6) Allowing a child under the age of 13 to ride in the front seat.

Consequence: children under the age of 13 are typically not large enough to safely ride in the front seat and can be seriously injured by front passenger air bags in the event of a crash.

Recommendation: All children under age 13 should be properly restrained in the back seat.

7) Forgetting the top tether.

Consequence: Without the top tether, your child’s head and neck will be subject to excessive forward movement in a crash or sudden stop.

Recommendation: When recommended, always use the top tether with both LATCH OR seat belt installations.

8) Adding additional padding, toys or mirrors to your child’s car seat.

Consequence: Using products that have not been tested with the car seat may interfere with how the seat was designed to perform in a crash. Loose items, such as mirrors, can also become a dangerous projectile in a sudden stop or crash.

Recommendation: Only use products that come with the seat or are recommended by the seat manufacturer. Be sure to secure all lose items in a vehicle truck or storage space.

9) Installing a car seat using LATCH in the center rear seat of a vehicle (when not permitted by the manufacturer)

Consequence: Most vehicles do not support LATCH installations in the center rear seat. Using lower anchors intended for outboard seats could cause the system to fail and the car seat to be thrown in a crash.

Recommendation: Always read your vehicles owner’s manual and only use lower anchors in seating positions that are approved by the vehicle manufacturer.

10) Transporting unsecured, heavy items, including pets, in the vehicle.
Consequence: Loose items in the vehicle can become dangerous projectiles and seriously injure passengers in the car.

Recommendation: Secure items in a truck, glove compartments or storage location. Properly restrain pets with approved devices.

11) Installing a car seat using both LATCH AND a seat belt.

Consequence: Installing a car seat with more than one system may put unnecessary stress on the car seat and affect its performance in the event of a crash.

Recommendation: In this case, tow is not better than one. Install the car seat in approved seating positions with LATCH OR the seat belt. Do not use more than once system unless the car seat manufacturer and vehicle manufacturer permit it.

12) Wearing bulky coats/sweaters while buckled into a car seat.

Consequence: Unapproved padding, including coats and sweaters, placed behind or under the harness can compress in a crash, creating slack in the harness system.

Recommendation: Place blankets or jackets over the child after the harness is sung and secure.

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Downtown Plymouth Road Closures due to Wicked Halloween run this Sunday

This is an Advanced Notice of numerous Event Road Closures scheduled in the City of Plymouth for the Wicked Halloween Run on Sunday, October 27th between 6:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.  Event organizers are anticipating over 5,200 runners to be participating.   For complete course maps and other information check out their web site at

Drivers in the City of Plymouth can expect significant traffic delays throughout the City on Sunday morning between 6:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.  This would include traffic delays on Main Street, Farmer, Harvey, Penniman and Ann Arbor Trail as examples.  In addition, residents should be aware that runners may be on the residential side streets and to please use caution when driving Sunday morning.  Please observe race course marshals who will be located throughout each race course.

City Police recommend that drivers may wish to detour around the City by using either Sheldon Road or Mill Street as their north/south access.  For east/west access the City Police recommend using Ann Arbor Road.

The various races will start and finish in Downtown Plymouth’s Kellogg Park.  The races will start in waves in an effort better manage the race course.  Traffic and parking in Downtown Plymouth on Sunday morning will be extremely limited.  Cross town drivers may wish to avoid the Downtown between 6:30 and 11:00 a.m.

Persons with additional questions should contact the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce at 734-453-1540 for more information.

Review: 2014 RAM ProMaster Cargo Van

I have driven more cars than I can count this year but strangely enough, none of them excited me as much as the Fiat Ducato we had in July. Why? Well, my snazzy new retaining wall that arrived pallet-by-pallet in the Ducato certainly helped, but the real reason is: the Ducato serves as the basis for the 2014 RAM ProMaster. Yes, I know I have an odd place in my heart for commercial cargo haulers, but hear me out. The ProMaster quite simply the biggest thing to happen in the commercial world in my lifetime. The only thing that could have surpassed the intrigue of a front-wheel-drive cargo hauler would be a front-wheel-drive BMW M5. I know Europeans have had these things for a while, but let’s revel in the American novelty as we click past the jump.

promaster cargo copy

First things first. The ProMaster isn’t a Ducato with a RAM stuck on the front. Instead, Fiat and Chrysler decided to do their most interesting joint venture project thus far: refresh/re-design the Ducato with the North American market in mind. Why bother? Because major changes needed to be made to meet US legislation so the team took the opportunity to tweak just about everything. If you’re a Ducato fan, keep reading because I suspect that many of the American market changes will trickle back to the EU over time.


With cargo haulers, it’s important that form follow function. The “box-on-wheels” is eminently practical. Because of this not much has changed externally from the Euro version and shoppers still have three body choices: a cargo van with or without windows, a chassis cab or a cutaway. Up front we still have the utilitarian dark grey bumper covers in a three-piece arrangement. The logic is that if you’re in a minor scuff-up, you can replace just the portion of the bumper you need to instead of the whole thing. Since they are all the same color regardless of the color of the van, parts costs are kept low and you can afford to have one or two in inventory.

Breaking from American tradition, the rear bumper is thin and shallow. While this makes me wonder what kind of body damage happens when the van gets hit in the rear, it makes forklift loading easier and keeps the van’s dimensions down. When it comes to dimensions, the ProMaster breaks from the mold. Rather than having an identical bodies in 1500, 2500 and 3500 versions, RAM’s ”levels” dictate  which of the four bodies, three wheelbases and two roof heights you get. The 1500 is the only version available with a low roof in two different lengths. The 2500 and 3500 are high roof only and all that really changes is the wheelbase and body length. The shortest ProMaster is 29 inches shorter (body length) than a GM standard van while the longest is 26 inches longer than GM’s largest van. Regardless of body, you get 16-inch wheels wrapped in 225/75R16 rubber. The small tires and wheels are a result of the Euro roots and the contrast between the small wheels and enormous body make the ProMaster look a little like a pregnant roller skate.

Cargo Hauling

The slab sides mean we get a large square rear opening almost as large as the van’s cross-section. This is significant change from GM and Ford’s existing vans where the rear portal is notably smaller than the cargo area. At 62 inches wide and 60 inches tall, the rear opening in the low-roof ProMaster is 5-inches wider and 13-inches taller than a GM/Ford van. Similar to Mercedes’ Sprinter, the ProMaster’s side doors swing 260 degrees and latch nearly parallel to the side of the van. The ProMaster’s sliding door rolls on an external stainless track for easy maintenance and thanks to the 49-inch wide, 60-inch tall (low roof) opening it reveals, you can insert one pallet in the side and one in the rear, something you can’t do in an E-Series or Savana. You can add a driver’s side sliding door for a reasonable $575 or $650 with glass, but if you prefer the side “barn doors” in your cargo hauler, look elsewhere. The RAM is sliding only.

Once you get beyond the unorthodox looks, you begin to realize how enormous the ProMaster is. At 283 cubic feet, smallest ProMaster (1500 short wheelbase) swallows one cubic foot less than GM’s biggest factory van. Need more? RAM’s positively ginormous ProMaster 3500 will haul 530 cubes, nearly twice the capacity of GM and Ford’s largest factory option. In fact when you look at the numbers, the ProMaster 3500 extended body extended wheelbase will schlep more than the average 12-foot box truck and nearly as much as the elusive 14-foot box truck.

A unique offering (so far) in the ProMaster is the factory installation of a steel bulkhead between the cargo and passenger compartment. GM and Ford offer a few dealer installed options but the total cost is higher than the ProMaster’s reasonable $495 for the partition with a window (about a hundred bucks less if you don’t want to look behind you.) Adding the partition not only improves safety but because of the factory fit and seal, it reduces cabin noise and improves air-conditioning performance. (An important consideration when you operate a black fleet in Phoenix.)

Construction & Payload

Cargo volume without payload capacity is useless, and this is where the ProMaster’s Euro roots become obvious. The RAM doesn’t follow the American convention when it comes to payload scales. Not only can the 1500 haul as many widgets as an extended Ford or GM van, the payload capacity is just 111 lower than GM’s sturdiest cargo hauler and a full ton more than a Ford or GM 1500 series van. Scaling up to the 3500, payload increases to 5,290lbs. That is nearly 900lbs more than the highest payload Ford or GM. As a result it is more realistic to compare the base ProMaster to the GM 2500 series extended vans in terms of capability. Logically the ProMaster is also priced in this fashion starting about the same as that 2500 extended van.

How can a front wheel drive unibody cargo van haul that much stuff? Easy. It’s not really a unibody. Unibody haters can put down their pitchforks, the ProMaster is a hybrid, which explains how they can slice those enormous doors into the side of the van without it collapsing like a house of cards. Essentially bonded to the vehicle’s floor, is a heavy-duty rail system that stretches from bumper to bumper. For the US market this frame has been beefed up for higher payloads and rougher roads. You can see the FWD benefit in the picture above: by using a FWD drivetrain, the load floor doesn’t have to sit on-top of the transmission, driveshaft or differential allowing it to hug the ground. At 21 inches the ProMaster’s load floor is 7-inches lower than the closest competitor and even the forthcoming Ford T-Series won’t improve on this much because of the RWD layout.


American cargo vans have never been known for modernity, creature comforts or leg room. The ProMaster, like the Nissan NV breaks the mold but the two vans do it in different ways. The Nissan puts the engine under a long hood while the ProMaster’s mill is transverse mounted freeing up leg room. The difference is night and day and my right leg remained un-cooked even after a 2 hour drive.  The first thing you’ll notice about the interior is how utilitarian it is. Easy to clean plastics span the interior (read: hard plastic), there’s a clip board integrated into the dash and instead of carpet you get a hard plastic floor with some textured grips. The second thing you’ll notice is how high off the ground you are. The passenger floor is 6-7 inches higher than the cargo load floor because everything that the ProMaster needs to move is located in front of or beneath the passenger compartment. This has two benefits, it allows the load floor to be lower to the ground and it also makes chassis cab and cut-away up-fitting easier. There are two access panels in the floor, one allows access to the battery (it’s the large one you can see in the picture above) and the other allows access to the fuel sending unit. Anyone who has a fleet of GM vans will tell you that replacing a fuel pump is a royal pain because you have to drain and drop the tank to get to it. In the ProMaster you just pop the cover off and have at it.

Chrysler decided to upgrade the headrests to a car-like fabric design instead of the rubbery Euro versions but the rest of the seat design is the same. This means we have a spring-loaded driver’s seat that adjusts for height, tilt, recline and fore/aft. Sadly the steering wheel is not as adjustable as it telescopes but does not tilt. In an interesting twist, the three-across seating option has made it across the pond for a very reasonable $225. This isn’t a bench seat, it’s a two-person seat that replaces the single passenger seat so the driver retains the more comfortable throne. While I think the Nissan NV’s thickly padded seats are the most comfortable commercial seats ever designed, the ProMaster takes an easy second place. If you want a splash of luxury, you can heat the seats for $170 a pop, adjustable lumbar support for $50, and a leather wrapped tiller for $145. If you hate your employees, vinyl seats can be had for $100.


The looks, front wheel drive layout and hybrid unibody aren’t the only things that set this van apart. The engines ans transmissions are unique to cargo vans as well. First off, there is no V8. Things start out with Chrysler’s 3.6L V6 engine in every body style. Yes, even that enormous 3500 with 5,291lb in the back and a 5,100lb trailer attached. Sending the 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque to the ground is a Chrysler 68TE six-speed automatic transaxle. This compact slushbox is the same transmission found in the Chrysler minivans except they swap in a much lower final gear ratio for ProMaster duty along with seriously upgraded cooling hardware.

For $4,000 you can toss in an Iveco/Fiat 3.0L four-cylinder turbo diesel. Before you laugh, this is the same engine found in certain medium duty Mitsubishi Fuso trucks, so it’s a solid heavy-duty contender. The oil burner cranks out 180 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, about the same amount of torque you get from GM’s 4.8L V8. This engine is mated to Fiat’s M40 transmission which is a 6-speed robotized manual transmission. Chrysler tell us that they have heavily revised the shift logic and control systems for the American market and as a result this will be a late availability option hitting around January of 2014. If you recall my review of the Ducato, my biggest complaint about the diesel drivetrain was the time it took to complete a 1-2 shift. Chrysler promises this has been corrected and they have also altered the torque pattern for American tastes.

The diesel has a few advantages over the gasoline V6. Oil change intervals stretch out to 18,000 miles, low-end torque is improved, first gear is lower (19:1 including final drive) to help you get off the line with heavy loads and the fuel economy is excellent (based on our Ducato experiences). Oddly enough, that M40 transmission is also a selling point. Because it doesn’t have a torque converter the fluid change intervals are lengthy and the cooling demands are reduced. Fiat tells us the single plate clutch kit for the Ducato is about $150 in Europe and I expect the parts to be about the same price on our shores. How easy is it to replace? That’s the wild card as I haven’t seen a repair manual yet.


Thanks to the new low final drive, the RAM is surprisingly quick off the line. The V6 model we tested scooted to 6o in 9.05 seconds, notably faster than the diesel Ducato we tested before. We didn’t get the opportunity to load the ProMaster as fully as the Ducato, but I expect the diesel to be the better hauler when full thanks to the better torque numbers.

Although not normally a consideration with a cargo van, the ProMaster delivers the most civilized ride in this segment. It’s also the easiest to parallel park thanks to an incredibly small 36.3-foot turning diameter in the short wheelbase model, smaller than many mid-size sedans. Even the long wheelbase, long body ProMaster 3500 impresses at 46.8. I know that sounds enormous, but in perspective, a long wheelbase Express needs a whopping 54.6 feet to do the same while carrying 50% less stuff. That’s the difference between accomplishing a U-turn or being the dude blocking all lanes of traffic while sea-sawing a multi-point turn.

Chrysler spent a decent amount of time lauding the Brembo front brakes which they claim gives the ProMaster the best fade resistance in the segment. Admittedly that’s a low bar to jump, but our informal tests around Malibu seemed to bear the claim out. One thing to note however is that with only 225 width rubber making contact with the ground, stopping times are no better than the competition.

Will the ProMaster be a success? I think it’s too early to tell. Fleet buyers are notoriously loyal to specific models because they have so much invested in uniformity. This alone accounts for the Ford E-Series sales leadership, despite being the thirstiest, oldest, and least desirable cargo van going. The largest unknown in the mix is: how reliable will the ProMaster be? Durability and total cost of ownership are extremely important in this segment and that’s an open-ended question. How will the 62TE stand up to a GVWR of 10,000lbs? Will it be as good as GM’s new 6L80 transmission they are finally putting in their vans? Rebuilt units are comparable in pricing so it will all come down to longevity. Chrysler is putting their 5 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty on the ProMaster to help entice shoppers. The combination of that small diesel and a long powertrain warranty to calm customer nerves could make a difference. However, if you option the ProMaster up with the diesel and a few options and you’re in Mercedes Sprinter territory and that is a dangerous place to be with the new Sprinter’s 7-speed auto and smooth diesel engine. Chrysler fights back with lower cost of service and ownership claims and a longer warranty.

The ProMaster is a compelling alternative to the Ford and GM 3/4 ton and 1 ton vans. delivering higher payloads and greater cargo capacity with low load floors, a more maneuverable chassis, a small diesel and excellent fuel economy. However, GM’s aggressive pricing and insane fleet purchase rebate program mean the less capable Chevy Express 1500 will likely be $2,000 (or more) cheaper than the least expensive ProMaster. Will the ProMaster’s ergonomic selling points and Euro charm win over commercial America? Or will the forthcoming rear-wheel-drive Ford T-Series (American Transit) win America’s hearts with its 5-cylinder diesel and twin-turbo V6? Stay Tuned.

As read on:

Jeep® Community Unites in Rebuilding of ‘Stomper’

There’s something special about the communities that develop around our brands. There’s a strong sense of unity and of looking out for each other.

So, it’s no surprise that when the Jeep® Wrangler owned by Bryan Hutton was damaged during the May 20, 2013, EF-5 tornado that struck Moore, Okla., the Jeep community came through after learning about Hutton’s selfless acts that day.

‘It’s just what Oklahomans do’
Hutton and his 2½-year-old son were visiting family in Moore, Okla., when the tornado hit. (Hutton’s wife Brenda, a USAF Major, was in Afghanistan at the time.)

Upon exiting a neighbor’s shelter, where Hutton, his son and others rode out the storm, Hutton said he was in “awe.”

“When I opened the shelter door, the storm was only a block or so passed us. There was large debris being tossed out toward us. I remember feeling very alone in those first few seconds due to the lack of life signs in my immediate vicinity. It looked like a scene from an apocalyptic summer blockbuster movie, very surreal. I immediately set off to help people from that moment.”

Bryan Hutton's 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon was damaged from the Moore, Okla., tornado -- but it was unstoppable as Bryan used it to help remove debris and assist those in need after the tragic storm. (Image courtest of Bryan Hutton)

(Image courtesy of Bryan Hutton)

Hutton was able to get his 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, nicknamed Stomper, out of his parents’ garage. Despite damage to it, Hutton and Stomper worked tirelessly and without fail to rescue people from the debris that had fallen around them. Stomper cleared roads and helped transport those who were injured.

“Setting off to help others came naturally,” Hutton said. “It’s just what Oklahomans do. The entire time that we were in the neighbors’ below-ground shelter, the only thing I could think of was everyone that was above ground at the mercy of such a powerful storm. I actually felt guilty for being safe.”

‘Bryan’s story is simply amazing.’
Zimmer Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, along with Crocker Off-Road Performance, Kustom Koachworks and many others, have donated time and/or equipment to rebuild Stomper, as a way of saying thanks to Hutton for his efforts.

“Bryan’s story is simply amazing,” said Zimmer CDJR Internet/Social Media Manager Lee Fogel. “I was following the story on Facebook and, after seeing the aftermarket community rally to save Stomper, I approached Catherine Zimmer, our CEO, and told her what was going on and asked if we could help out.

“We knew that at some point they would need OE parts. Catherine and I felt very strongly about their story and wanted to do our part as a respected franchise for CDJR. So, she said, ‘Let’s help out.’”

Hutton added that, “The outpouring of support has been incredible.

“When Camp Crocker first called and told me what the plan was, I told him to find someone who didn’t have insurance to do a rebuild for. It was then that Crocker told me of how Stomper’s story was already inspiring people from all over the country to help the good people of Moore. Once I had seen this myself, I agreed to save Stomper.”

For details on Hutton’s deeds and the effort to rebuid Stomper, see C4x4’ story or the Kustom Koachworks blog.

As read on:

Leyland steps down after eight years with Tigers

DETROIT — Jim Leyland stepped down as manager of the Tigers on Monday, revealing his decision at a Comerica Park news conference.

Leyland, 68, said he told the Tigers players of his plans after Saturday’s loss to the Red Sox in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, and that he informed club president and general manager Dave Dombrowski of his decision on Sept. 7 in Kansas City. Leyland said that he has accepted a different position, to be determined, with the club.

“It’s not goodbye, because I will be in the organization doing something,” an emotional Leyland said.

“We want to thank Jim for everything he has done over the past eight years to steer the ship and lead our ballclub to some exciting times in this town,” Tigers owner Mike Ilitch said. “Jim has been instrumental in the franchise’s most recent success on and off the field, and we are forever grateful. We wish the best to Jim and his family in the future.”

Leyland’s decision ends an eight-year tenure leading the team he grew up with, first as a Minor League catcher and then as a manager in its farm system. This season was his 50th in professional baseball, 22 of them managing at the big league level, the last eight in Detroit.

He built the Pittsburgh Pirates into a perennial contender on a small-market budget in the early 1990s, winning three consecutive National League East titles from 1990-92, then won a long-awaited World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997, only to watch both teams enter rebuilding projects. After a disappointing 1999 season managing in Colorado, he stepped down and seemed ready for retirement.

For years, however, he dreamed about a chance to manage Detroit. He took the job after the 2005 season and led a Tigers team that hadn’t had a winning record since 1993 to heights it hadn’t seen since its World Series-winning season of 1984.

The 2006 Tigers, Leyland’s first team, won the AL Wild Card and went to the World Series, falling to the Cardinals in five games. It was a Cinderella story for a franchise that had seemed mired in mediocrity, but it was the start of a team that contended just about every year.

Six of Leyland’s eight Tigers squads finished with a winning record. Four of them went to the playoffs. The last three won the AL Central title and advanced to at least the ALCS. Though they were swept by the Giants, the Tigers reached the World Series last year. Leyland joined Hughie Jennings from a century ago as the only managers to lead the Tigers to three consecutive postseason berths.

“The thing I’m proudest of is … I came here to make talent a team. I think we did that,” Leyland said.

“Jim’s tenure will be looked back on as one of the great eras in Tigers history, an era that included two World Series appearances, four ALCS appearances in eight seasons, three division titles and two American League pennants,” Dombrowski said. “It has truly been an honor to work with one of the great managers in the history of the game.”

In each of the three seasons, Leyland worked without a contract for the following year. He had decided to go year-to-year with his deal, he said, following the example of his good friend, former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, to avoid a long-term commitment if he didn’t want to manage anymore or if the Tigers wanted to go in a different direction. La Russa was among the few people Leyland consulted while coming to his decision to retire as a manager.

There had been no outward signs that Leyland was ready to call it quits. As recently as this summer, he talked about wanting to manage beyond next year, and he said that his energy level was good — though he revealed on Monday that road trips were taking a toll on him and that “the fuel was starting to get low.” Dombrowski told during the AL Division Series that Leyland was welcome as long as he wanted to manage, and he told Leyland the same in their Sept. 7 meeting, before Leyland said this would be his last season.

Leyland’s 700 regular-season managerial wins are the third-most in Tigers history, trailing only Sparky Anderson (1,331) and Jennings (1,131). His .540 winning percentage as Tigers manager ranks only behind Steve O’Neill (.551 from 1943-48) among managers with at least 500 wins.

Leyland’s 1,769 wins overall rank 15th all-time among Major League managers. His eight playoff appearances tie him for seventh on the all-time list, a group that includes La Russa, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Hall of Famers Casey Stengel, John McGraw, Joe McCarthy and Connie Mack.

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All-new 2014 Jeep® Cherokee Wins at Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA) Truck Rodeo

The all-new 2014 Jeep® Cherokee took the Texas Truck Rodeo by storm, forging riverbeds, conquering rocky hills, and the competition, winning the “Compact SUV of Texas” award. In addition, the new Jeep Cherokee was the runner up, to the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, in the coveted “SUV of Texas” in voting by the Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA).

The Jeep Cherokee made a big impression on the members of TAWA who voted for the Cherokee as Compact SUV of Texas, by almost a two-to-one margin. With solid competitors in the Compact SUV segment, it’s an impressive win for the all-new Cherokee.

The 2013 TAWA Truck Rodeo jury consisted of 41 TAWA members and the competition featured two days of uncompromising on- and off-road vehicle evaluation in the Texas hill country. Consideration is given to everything from exterior styling and off-road capability to the entrant’s overall utility, value and fuel efficiency.

Not all compact SUVs could handle the off-road terrain. The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk willingly followed the footprint of the 2014 Jeep Wrangler on both the ranch roads and the extreme off-road course, which was limited to only truly capable vehicles.

TAWA members drove both the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk and Cherokee Limited models during the two-day competition at the Knibbe ranch outside San Antonio, Texas. The 2014 Jeep Cherokee impressed the jurors with its off-road capability as well as its exceptional on-road manners and well-crafted interior.

Jeep Brand Vehicles reigned supreme at the 2013 Texas Truck Rodeo, winning in every category the brand entered:

Durango. Burgundy. It’s Kind of a Big Deal.

We’ve seen it before – the well-known TV anchorman we’ve grown up watching on the news turns into a product pitchman. But a fictional TV news anchor? Don’t act like you’re not impressed. I’m talking about the partnership between the Dodge brand and Paramount Pictures – the much anticipated film ‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.’

If you haven’t yet seen the new spots, you are in for a treat. If you haven’t seen them all, you’ll be in for a laugh for some time to come. There are 70 different spots featuring Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy, starring as the pitchman of the new 2014 Dodge Durango.

During today’s ad briefing, Chief Marketing Officer of Chrysler Group LLC Olivier Francois explained that it’s a “unique way to showcase the cutting-edge technology of the Dodge Durango in a completely unexpected approach that is fresh, funny and culturally provocative.”

The humor lies in the fact that Ferrell delivers the pitch in the character of Ron Burgundy, an arrogant anchorman straight out of the 1970s, which means he has a bit of a different take on the many features of the Dodge Durango.

In one spot, Burgundy completely ignores the advanced technology of the 2014 Dodge Durango and instead concentrates on what fits nicely in the glove box.

In another spot, see him discuss the Dodge Durango’s 360 horsepower with a single horse:

That’s just two of the commercials. What’s next? More of the 70 spots will roll out in the coming weeks. All of them can be viewed on the They won’t all roll out at once, so check back often. The spots will help build anticipation for “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” You can also follow our Facebook page to see other video content. (Also, when you “Like” our Facebook page this month we are donating a $1.00 for each new “Like” to Breast Cancer in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month!)

Seventy spots may sound like a lot, but with a talented actor and comedian behind the wheel, the ads rolled off Ferrell’s tongue totally unscripted and ad-libbed. That’s a lot of content and a lot of humor.

The spots will air through the end of the year. The movie arrives in theaters Dec. 20. The 2014 Dodge Durango is in showrooms now.

When it comes to a unique and effective advertising campaign, you have to admit, it’s kind of a big deal.